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Ethics Lecture Notes

Ethics Lecture Notes

Course Introduction

This will be a seminar on classic and contemporary work on central topics in ethics. The first third of the course will focus on metaethics: we will examine the meaning of moral claims and ask whether there is any sense in which moral principles are objectively valid. The second third of the course will focus onnormative ethics: what makes our lives worth living, what makes our actions right or wrong, and what do we owe to others? The final third of the course will focus on moral character: what is virtue, and how important is it? Can we be held responsible for what we do? When and why?

These notes have been taken from MITOpenCourseware

Part 1: Meta-Ethics

Non Naturalism

Plato’s dialogue and the “Euthyphro Problem” (PDF)

Moore on goodness as simple and indefinable (PDF)


Ayer on the emotive theory of ethics (PDF)

Brink on the form and content of moral judgments (PDF)

The epistemic problem for cognitivism

Harman on ethics and observation (PDF)

Sturgeon on moral explanations (PDF)

Moral relativism

Harman on moral relativism (PDF)

Foot on moral relativism (PDF)

Lyons on ethical relativism and the problem of incoherence (PDF)

Part 2: Normative Ethics


Mill on utilitarianism (PDF)

Nozick and Parfit on theories of well-being (PDF)

Norcross on comparing harms (PDF)


Williams critiquing utilitarianism (PDF)

Lenman on consequentialism and cluelessness (PDF)

Singer on act-utilitarianism (PDF)

Rawls on rules (PDF)

Nagel on agent-relative reasons (PDF)

Distributive justice

Rawls and Nagel on equality (PDF)

Williams on the idea of equality (PDF)

Singer on famine, affluence, and morality (PDF)

Part III: Moral character


Arpaly on moral worth (PDF)

Wolf on moral saints (PDF)

Free will and moral responsibility

van Inwagen on the incompatibility of free will and determinism (PDF)

Frankfurt on moral responsibility (PDF)

Nagel on moral luck (PDF)

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